By avoiding several simple online activities, you could gain a lot more privacy for you and your family.
You may be surprised at how much personal information is collected about you. Every time you buy something online, "like" a page on Facebook or complete a survey, that information is used by companies to build your profile, which is then sold to other companies to entice you to buy more items. It's a vicious cycle.
Currently, you can get an idea of who Google thinks you are based on your web-browsing history. (It thought I was a young man because I visit a lot of technology websites.) Go to Google Ads Preferences Page to see whether Google thinks you are a man or a woman, your approximate age and a list of your interests. It uses this information to determine what ads you will see on pages you visit.
While this can be an interesting exercise, it's still all a bit vague. But that could change before the end of the year. Google is not the only company that collects data. In fact, many other companies make big bucks selling this type of information to countless others.
You may soon be able to see exactly what these companies know about you. Acxiom, one of the biggest data collectors, is creating a tell-all website for consumers, according to a report last week released by the Financial Times.
Acxiom sells a product to marketers called Personicx, which classifies each U.S. household into one of 70 segments based on specific consumer and demographic characteristics. These segments include Career-Centered Singles, Apple Pie Families and Rolling Stones. That way, companies can identify groups of people that share values, income levels, education and any number of other characteristics and send ads their way.
While some of Acxiom's data comes from public records, a big portion is gathered from your own online activities.
You can opt out of seeing personalized ads (Acxiom lets you do that by submitting a request, similar to Google's opt-out tool), but you can't do much to stop them from gathering data about you, short of using incognito browser modes or "anonymizing" browsers such as Tor, which can be a daunting task for those who are not particularly tech-savvy.
But you can reduce the data that is gathered about you. Here's how:
* Avoid online surveys and inquiries. Acxiom said household interests like travel, reading and cooking, as well as family milestones, like a new baby, are gathered from surveys that a household member has completed.
* Reduce what you buy online and consider shopping locally instead. Acxiom collects purchase data from companies, which can give a pretty clear picture of what's going on in your life. Did you recently order a crib online? Then don't be surprised to see ads for disposable diapers and baby formula when you are browsing the Internet.
* Think twice before you like a page on Facebook or add one to your Google+ circles. Acxiom collects publicly available information from all social media websites that allow such collection, including Facebook and YouTube. That's how the company knows which social media sites are used in a household, whether they are heavy or light users and whether they sign on to fan pages or watch YouTube videos.
Acxiom said the consumer website will be launched later this year. It is working on security measures to safeguard the soon-to-be shared data. No doubt it will be an eye-opener. In the meantime, be aware of what you choose to reveal online.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.